Ever since 2008 when I shared vows with my college sweetheart I’d been asked the same question over and over by strangers and friends alike — do you plan to have children?
Not that it’s anyone’s business, but I always provided the same answer. I told them we’d consider it when the time was right. The response was always the same also. “There’s never a right time to have a baby.”
Wrong times continued to come and go. We went through financial challenges, job loss, new jobs, relocations, travel, and times when we were having too much fun to pause to raise a baby. There really was NEVER a right time.
In the end, the decision came when we looked at each other, both mid-thirties and said, “There’s never been a better time, so why not now?”
I was just a year into my journey as a full-time solopreneur having left my corporate job in summer 2017 for a company I’d been running as a side gig for years. I knew there’d be no PTO or maternity leave, but I couldn’t let the logistics continue to hold back my life goals.
Making Way for Baby
The first trimester came and went and soon the signs began to show on my belly. It was real.
Now it was time to figure out how I’d need to reorganize my world to change my 80 hour weeks into a life with room for baby.
It took the whole second trimester to evaluate my business and make a plan for how I’d need to move things around. At the time I ran two businesses, a PR consultancy and a women’s network that hosts events and publishes a magazine. I knew there was no way I could continue doing both at this level while raising a baby, so I needed to find a way to eliminate some hours while maintaining my company’s revenue.
The solution for me was to focus on building a hybrid model. How could I begin to merge my PR business into the women’s network? By switching my time from PR contracts to advertising contracts with my women’s organization I was able to start moving some of that revenue into a model that didn’t require constant hours on the computer pitching clients and responding to media.
With this transition in mind I began allowing PR relationships to drop off and avoided pursuing new contracts that required ongoing pitching, so I could focus my time on the efforts that fit my new objective.
Maternity Leave for Solopreneurs
One of the first big worries I had was the concept of maternity leave. I’d heard many women talk about how important it was to have time away and often hear women discuss their desire to have had even more time away from work to bond with their baby. As a solopreneur I had no idea how to even begin to create that for myself since the majority of business efforts are really my own.
The first thing I did was search terms such as “maternity leave plan for solopreneurs” and “maternity leave for entrepreneurs,” and found few conversations on the topic. I began to really start stressing myself over the lack of resources believing that if there’s nothing out there then it must be unachievable.
I then began to approach entrepreneurs to find out how they were able to manage having a child while running a young business. I spent hours asking every question I could conceive of and taking in their tips to develop my own philosophies and ideas around how to handle it for myself.
The #1 thing they shared was that they never truly stopped working. Most took 1-2 weeks off completely and began working again as full time as possible soon after having the baby. While it’s possible to find help in the form of team members to take on projects, at the startup level it’s unlikely that there’s budget to hire a high-level employee similar to the owner to manage major business duties.
Soon after beginning my interviews I also found a podcast called “Startup Pregnant,” where guests discuss their journey leading a business while starting a family. One of the episodes featured an influencer I’ve followed and admired for years named Vanessa Van Edwards. Her business is big enough for her to not only hire her husband full-time, but also to have a team capable of running the business independently. During her interview she discussed her own challenges with the business during her transition and how she and her husband were forced to work within a week of bringing their baby home.
Eventually I gave up on the idea of having a corporate-style maternity leave and focused on creating as much space as possible to have the flexibility to work fewer hours and have time to care for my newborn.
What Real Life Looks Like for a Solopreneur Mom
Now that my little one has arrived, I can say for sure that the transition is both as hard as described and easier than expected.
Sleep is elusive, but in a way I never could have fathomed. Who knew that taking 1-2 hour power naps could be a survivable strategy for life? Somehow I’m managing life with 4-5 hours of broken sleep each day and have the energy to serve my baby and my business in the same 24 hours.
They say babies sleep more than 15 hours a day. Since my child gets most of his zzz’s during the daytime hours, I’m free to work with only minor interruptions to feed and change him between naps. He wakes up with a vengeance at 9 p.m. each day, but at least some work gets done before that time arrives.
Building a team was a no go for me. Just a few months before my baby was due, my most important team member gave her notice after 2 years. I scrambled to hire and train a replacement, fearful all along of the responsibility on her shoulders to carry my events while I healed. I was fortunate to find an amazing human to take that role that has successfully run my events in my absence. My attempt to also hire two part-time team members to take on marketing and sales duties failed as both gave notice within a week of my baby’s birth, leaving me with 100% of the revenue generation and a new expense to provide for at home.
While I thought my plan would take most of the burden away, I ended up needed to get back in the saddle pretty quickly.
Ultimately, being a solopreneur mom is certainly challenging, but I’m living life one beautiful moment at a time with my little one and focusing my precious hours on only the most relevant tasks that forward my mission.
If you’re a startup mom I encourage you to do as I did and seek out camaraderie and stories from other mothers who’ve managed the life. I found that people outside of that circle create a bit of shame with their commentary with comments like “What, how are you working right now,” and “I took 4 months, but I wish I could have had 6. I can’t believe you’re not bonding and healing every second.”
Your sisters in business will understand what you’re going through, tell you how they dove back into work within a week, and assure you that your child will love you just as much.